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Yoga and the Five Koshas

 

Did you know that there are actually five of you?  ….Or rather, five distinct layers that constitute you.  Would you like to know what those five parts are and how you can support them through yoga?

Early yogic scriptures, espouse that we are much more than a mold of skin and bones that then gives rise to thought. Texts, such as the Taittiriya Upanishad, ascribe that we are composed of five distinct bodies or layers called koshas; each one increasingly more subtle than the preceding.  Many asana, pranayama and meditation methods are built around the kosha model and are designed to strengthen and harmonize each layer.

The physical body or “anumaya kosha” in Sanskrit, is the first and most obvious layer.  Anumaya kosha literally means the “food sheath”. It is constituted by the food that we consume.  Eventually, our physical body will become food for other creature -and thus the wheel of physical nature turns.

Eventually, our physical body will become food for other creature -and thus the wheel of physical nature turns.

Maintaining the health of the physical body, whether through diet, ayurvedic principles, asana or other forms of exercise will vitalize the physical body, prevent disease and prepare us for the journey within.

Pranamaya kosha, the second layer, is constituted by pranic-energy.  This energy is non-material though it influences the workings of the physical body.  Chinese medicine draws upon pranic principles through the use of acupuncture, which stimulate pranic-meridians to affect changes in physical health.  The sun is the ultimate source of pranic energy for life on earth -its invisible rays bathe the planet in life giving warmth.

The sun is the ultimate source of pranic energy for life on our planet
-its invisible rays bathe the earth in life giving warmth.

Prana is also present in the air that we breath and can be optimized through yogic breathing methods called pranayama.  Pranayama practices such as the yogic breath, alternate nostril breathing and kapalabhati are designed to increase the health and vitality of the second sheath.

One of the simplest ways to regulate the pranamaya kosha is by extending the inhalation and exhalation and making them as subtle and smooth as possible.  Aim to create a sustainable rhythm of breath. You can even integrate this practice into the postures, make each pose, or transition between poses, as a kind of breath meditation, become a connoisseur of respiration and sensation.

Think of it this way…

  1. Quality of breath first.
  2. Posture second.

Pranamaya kosha can attune our physical body and influence the third body, manamaya kosha, the mental/sensorial sheath. Manamaya kosha is the instinctual, reflexive aspect of our mind that is designed to keep us safe.  It tells us when we are thirsty and allows us to absentmindedly drive from point A to point B without any recollection of the journey. It also processes input from our five senses.

Western culture is entrenched in sensorial stimulation. Examples of this include having one dozen tv screens at a pub/restaurant, violent video games, or simple trying to manage so many life responsibilities that leave one unable to sleep at night.  Excessive exposure to these forces generate craving for further stimulation and ultimately leaves one’s mental/sensorial body depleted.

Excessive exposure to these forces generates the craving for further stimulation
and ultimately leaves one’s mental/sensorial body depleted.

Nourishing manamaya kosha requires being selective of the kinds of impressions we feed our mind.  Fortunately, there are many yogic techniques for replenishing the mental body such as the meditation kriyas, repetition of mantra (called japa), and pratayaha (sense withdrawal practices).

As a simple recommendation, abstain from the use of electronics for at least an hour and a half before bed to ensure deeper rest. Spend time absorbing the sights, sounds and feel of the natural world. We can also replenish our mind through meaningful work and fulfilling relationships.  Start a regular meditation practice.

Tantric-yoga informally designates these first three bodies as one-singular-body, because they are most obviously interrelated.  How we move and position our physical body (through asana) influences the quality of our breath. How we breath directly informs the quality of our thoughts.  And our level of awareness will inturn support us in becoming more sensitive to the needs of the body. Most modern yoga practitioners operate at the level of these first three koshas, gradually purifying their awareness so that they can develop the inner faculty to perceive the final two sheaths.

The remaining two bodies, vijanamaya kosha, the body of higher knowledge and undeterred will, and anandamaya kosha, the body of bliss, lye beyond the limitations of our rational cognitive mind. The methodical practice of yoga gradually reveals the light and power of these deeper dimensions of our being and lead to spiritual realization.

Whether we consciously recognize it or not,
each of the five koshas are perpetually in motion

Whether we consciously recognize it or not, each of the five koshas are perpetually in motion,  The process of yoga helps us to become sensitive to their presence and bring optimal health to each body.

If you have a desire to learn more about each of these koshas (including the final two) I invite you to attend our upcoming workshop on Saturday, June 28th from 9-3:30 where we will discuss each kosha further and do enjoining practices for each.  Handouts provided.

KOSHA WORKSHOP:
Saturday, June 28th from 9-3:30
3250 E. Sixth Ave.  Denver
(Inside of the church -upstairs)
Good Will Offering $75-150

REGISTER HERE

Asthma, Allergies and Ayurveda

Catch a glimpse into an experiment in progress by one of the Axis Yoga Teacher Training students.

The following posts describe how this student adopted some new habits and changed some old ones in an effort to finally deal with chronic allergies and asthma. With the help of Ayurveda and Yoga this student, like many others, discovers their own power to effect change and healing in all parts of the body.

Asthma, Allergies and Ayurveda: Herbs

For my Ayurvedic experiment, I chose to attempt to alleviate something more physically immediate that was plaguing my existence: allergies. I have struggled with allergies, asthma, and eczema my whole life. I was always trying to figure out what was causing it but with very little effort into truly trying to understand the why’s and what’s of the cause and just hoping it would miraculously go away some day. I lived in Hawai’i when from ages 3-6 and I seemingly had no allergies there (except to cats). We moved to Florida right before my 7th birthday and that is where my struggles began. I would have frequent asthma attacks and needed to be hooked up to a nebulizer in order to breathe. It was miserable. I seemingly grew out of it but have noticed recently that perhaps I haven’t grown out of my asthma and allergies as much as I’d thought.

This experiment has led me to speculate that perhaps my asthma is allergic asthma. While my focus was not so much my asthma, the two are very much interrelated. I began taking the following herbs for Pitta and Kapha allergies: 8 shatavari; 1 guduchi; 1/4 shanka bhasma; 2 sitopaladi; 2 yasthi madhu (licorice); 2 turmeric; 2 coriander. I have been taking ~2 tsp once a day with warm water since March 20th. The first week was a little bit of a struggle, as I missed 3 days of taking it due to forgetfulness. I strongly dislike the feeling I get when I haven’t held up my end of a deal and told myself I need to figure out a way to prioritize it so that I don’t forget. I have found that taking the ~2tsp once a day during my morning routine is most effective for me.

At first the taste was not as bad as I was expecting. It reminded me of the end of a cereal box, where all of the grainy sugar and sweetness lies, except minus the sugar. It tasted slightly sweet, which I appreciated (as I gravitate towards such things), but swallowing was a little difficult. I could feel every grainy piece of the herbs I was taking. The first time I took it, I tried to just open my mouth, drop my head back, and dump the herbs on the back of my tongue to avoid any sensory displeasure. This technique backfired as I inhaled and simultaneously drew the herbs into my lungs and erupted into a coughing fit of regret and annoyance. I learned my lesson. It has now been 8 consecutive days that I have taken the herbs everyday without forgetting. I don’t feel that I have that much to report on in the way of results, but I can testify to the other doors that have been opened for me during this process.

Asthma, Allergies and Ayurveda: Marijuana

As I mentioned before, I have been more able to discover more about my condition, what exacerbates it, and what I may do to calm it or control it. I am a huge proponent for the positive effects of using marijuana. As a CrossFit athlete, I put my body under intense bouts of stress. I lift heavy weights, and try to complete metabolic conditioning movements as fast as I can. Marijuana is something I have been using daily for several years (about 4 years) and it helps my recovery tremendously. I noticed that it also eased some of the anxiety and restlessness that came along with my college graduation. I have noticed that for the past several months, as my allergies have been acting up more, that metabolic exercise has been tremendously more difficult for me. I have so much phlegm and mucous that it literally makes it difficult to breathe. When I am in the middle of a workout and I have to stop because I can’t breathe and am approaching a moment of asthma panic, it is disheartening. It makes me feel that my inability to breathe is keeping me from reaching my goals and it feels unfair.

My Ayurvedic experiment is actually several different experiments all rolled into one. One overarching theme I have begun is to be more mindful in everything that I do. I have never been someone who has paid attention to anything that I wasn’t interested in or willfully trying to learn. I am a daydreamer and one of my biggest flaws is that I don’t listen (my moon is in Pisces if that helps a better picture for you. AKA – Space cadet here!). Being more mindful has been an uphill battle. It is really difficult to change something I didn’t even realize I was doing. This experiment has made me realize that as much as I love smoking marijuana for all the positive things it brings to my life, perhaps it is not serving me in the same way anymore. I have decided to take a two week break from smoking marijuana (as of April 2nd), which I may extend to a month or even longer if I discover that I don’t need it as much as I thought I did. I am really trying to pay attention to how that can serve me right now in alleviating my allergic asthma and allergy symptoms.

Asthma, Allergies and Ayurveda: Sadhana

Another mini experiment that is all part of this broader experiment is changing my routine. For years, literally years, I have been truly wanting to change my morning routine, to not have my phone be the first thing I look at in the morning, to not lose 3 hours of the start of my day to Facebook and Instagram. I wanted to get up and practice yoga, start a meditation practice, read a book, do something that was going to enrich my life in my day to day. As part of my Ayurvedic experiment, I have also taken up tongue scraping, oil pulling, neti potting, and meditation on a daily basis. I realize that I am always so eager to experiment on my body in ways that I can control: food, allergy, hygiene, etc. These are all physical experiments that affect my perception of myself. What I realized is that I have been resisting making internal changes and putting forth the effort of doing things that seem hard or boring, which gave rise to my sadhana practice.
I began my sadhana practice on March 21st and have only lost one day to forgetfulness. Hearing that “no effort goes to waste” in our class presentation on meditation inspired me to always just try and to keep trying. I have been practicing sadhana every morning for 10 minutes as the last piece of my Ayurvedic morning routine. This morning I incorporated nadishodhana (my favorite of the 4 purifications) and increased my time to 15 minutes. I definitely felt the extra 5 minutes, but have seen positive changes from my daily practice.

Asthma, Allergies and Ayurveda: Change

I have made strides in being the observer and the observed. I have discovered that the Axis Yoga Teacher Training program has given me the extra push and support I needed to make those changes. I have come leaps and bounds from where I was 5 years ago, spiritually, mentally, and physically. I have made strides on my own that have positively affected my relationship to myself and to others and have helped shaped a more free, connected, and positive view of the world around me. Axis has given me support to pursue those changes I have been waiting to make and given me a community to be accountable to in the most enriching way. I am so grateful for this experience and am excited to keep applying what I am learning for more growth and understanding for myself and those around me.

Denver’s Free Guide to Evaluating Yoga Teacher Trainings – Free Guide & Worksheet

Denver's Ultimate Guide to Evaluating Yoga Teacher Training Programs with Studio Comparison Worksheet10 MUST-ASK Questions Before You Pick A Program in Denver

Some have called Colorado the mecca of yoga. And as the popularity of both yoga and Colorado have grown, the number of certified yoga teacher training programs have skyrocketed. A quick internet search will turn up dozens of training programs throughout the Denver-Metro area. But it can be challenging to determine which yoga teacher training program is right for you.

To help make this process easier, we have created a free guide to Evaluating Denver’s Yoga Teacher Training Programs that includes 10 must-ask questions and a bonus worksheet you can use to evaluate the programs you are considering.

The answers to these questions will not only narrow down your search, but will also help guide you to the training program that meets your specific needs as a yoga practitioner and future yoga teacher (if you choose to go that route).

A representative from the Denver program that you are considering should be available via email, phone or even face-to-face through open house events. If you are having difficulty getting your questions answered, this could be a sign that the program may not be a good fit.

Print and fill out the comparison worksheet at the end of this guide to help make narrowing down your selection easier. With the answers to these questions, you can find the Denver yoga teacher training program that best aligns with your values and aspirations.

Remember that the benefits of your training will feed you well for the rest of your life, far beyond the length of the program. I’m excited for you and the amazing journey you are about to embark upon. Namaste.

Click Here to Download Free Guide to Denver’s YTT Programs + Bonus Worksheet 

Ditching the Distractions

Yoga gives us time and space to hear ourselves, to feel our emotions, to connect to who we are apart from the distractions of our world. This isn’t always comfortable. Many times it’s easier to gloss over unwanted thoughts and feelings rather than to connect and process them. The following posts were written by an Axis Yoga Teacher Training student who decided to confront this discomfort in order to create change. As part of the YTT course, students experiment with chosen Yogic and Ayurvedic principles. With the instructors’ guidance, these experiments allow the students to feel first-hand the impact simple changes can have on daily life.

 

Ditching the Distractions: New Routine

I struggle with addressing my disliked emotions and energies. I associate words like “anger” and “anxious” with shame, and so I generally avoid recognizing those presences within my body and mind. I choose quick-fix, lazy distractions instead. Gently and kindly observing manifestations within and external is a new practice for me, one that I exercise with variability. I continue to desire for groundedness in this endeavor, and to conversely but just as fluidly, let go of the experiences. To quiet my mind and warm my heart, I decided to experiment with relaxing and soothing Ayurvedic methods before bedtime. I hypothesized that this nightly routine would help me to engage more honestly and compassionately with my surroundings and myself.

I chose the following as my evening routine: 1) light incense, 2) massage coconut oil into my feet, 3) meditate (keep the mind on the breath) for 15 minutes, and 4) drop lavender essential oil on my pillow. From the onset I took notes to outline my experiment and to tinker with the design. On night one I learned that meditation should follow massaging the coconut oil, versus the opposite order, so that my mind would be most quiet directly before I placed my head on my pillow. Night one also taught me that I should not look at my phone light directly before turning towards sleep; I used an app called Insight Timer to measure the minutes of my meditation, and I decided that I would close out of the app in the morning to avoid the irritation of the phone light prior to closing my eyes. I learned, as one of the Axis mentor’s had stated, that a little bit of oil goes a long way.

 

Ditching the Distractions: New Sensations

I experienced profound peace within the first couple of nights of experimentation. On night 2 of the experiment I had this crazy thought: that if I were to not wake up, things would be ok…it wasn’t that I didn’t want to wake up, I’d just be ok with not waking up, too. This thought occurred in the few moments after I had tucked myself into bed and before I fell peacefully asleep. I did, of course, wake up the next morning, joyful and well-rested and smelling lavender. But the warmth of that thought stopped me in my mental tracks throughout the following days, likely because of it’s supreme oppositeness to general thought patterns of my life, and specifically a grand fear surrounding the mystery of death. It was an interesting experience.

I practiced every night for the first 8 nights. I felt more aware of my disliked sensations throughout the day, and I chose to recognize their presence and breathe through them. I was more aware of liked sensations, too! I experienced lightness as I woke in the morning, and I felt gratitude for a calming night’s sleep. I found myself abiding in greater clarity.